Here are the talking points for the fourth round of this year’s world championship.
Vettel versus Leclerc‘Will Ferrari dare tell Leclerc to follow Vettel again?’ we asked in the previous for the Chinese Grand Prix. ‘Of course they will’, came back the response, as for the third time in a row Leclerc was ordered to yield to Vettel.
This has created the preposterous situation where Ferrari’s decision that Vettel is the quicker of its two drivers is the only reason he’s ahead in the championship. Incredibly, the scoreline would be in Leclerc’s favour if he hadn’t been the only one of their two drivers to experience a technical failure so far, in Bahrain.
It’s clear Vettel hasn’t rekindled the love-at-first-sight relationship with the SF90 he enjoyed in pre-season testing. Will this be the weekend Vettel rediscovers his mojo? Will Leclerc, with so much capacity to improve so early in his carer, continue to pile on the pressure? The Ferraris alone could provide enough storylines for a single race weekend.
Ferrari’s missing speed advantage
Mercedes have been talking up Ferrari’s straight-line speed advantage, but they aren’t alone. Red Bull have too, and the speed trap figures show Ferrari have plenty of prancing horse-power. Yet so far they haven’t been able to consistently yield a lap time advantage.
That may change in Baku, which has some of the longest flat-out sections and highest top speeds on the calendar. If it doesn’t, and Ferrari leaves the opening quartet of flyaway races without a win, then their 2019 championship challenge is going to look badly compromised from the start, and questions may be asked about the fundamental design philosophy of their SF90.
Racing Point (in their previous guise as Force India) have regularly achieved some of their best results of recent seasons at this track. Remarkably, Sergio Perez is the only driver to have finished on the podium more than once at Baku.
The team has had a sluggish start to its first championship since its off-season rebranding, partly due to its new car being conceived while the company was in administration in the middle of last season. However Perez has extracted some excellent results from the car, including a fine eighth (second ‘in class’) last time out in China, so watch out for more giant-killing.
Team mate Lance Stroll still needs to make it past Q1 for the first time this year. the venue where he scored his only podium finish to date, in 2017, should be a good place for him to do it.
Racing Point’s fellow Mercedes users Williams are suffering another horrendous year. The car is low on downforce but has a top class power unit, so they should be in better shape here, but realistically it’s unlikely to mean George Russell and Robert Kubica are able to fight with anyone other than themselves.
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Nico Hulkenberg has had some rotten luck of late. He drove a superb race in Australia (which, in retrospect, we should have praised more highly in Star Performers at the time) and was on course for another excellent result in Bahrain but retired.
The team identified an MGU-K problem, issued a fix – and he retired again in China. Renault’s reliability problems also hampered Hulkenberg’s qualifying effort in Bahrain.
Now he heads to Baku where he’s been the architect of his own downfall on his three previous visits. he spun during qualifying in 2016, missing Q3 as a result, while team mate Perez went on to grab a podium finish. In his last two visits he hit the wall. Can he master a track he’s struggled with in the past and overcome his lousy 2019 luck in the same weekend?
Payback for Bottas?
In what was surely the cruellest defeat of last season, Valtteri Bottas had victory snatched from him within a few laps of the chequered flag when he suffered a puncture due to debris.
It handed victory to his team mate – a 35-point swing which became crucial later in the season when Mercedes weighed up the need to issue team orders of their own.
Will he take back his lost win this weekend? He has good form at Baku if not great luck. He was in great shape in 2016 before a grid damaged his car in practice, and fought his way from the back of the field to second in 2017.
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Over to you
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And don’t forget to enter your predictions for this weekend’s race. You can edit your predictions until the start of qualifying:
2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
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- Top ten pictures from the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
- Ferrari are “struggling more with tyres than in previous years”, admits Vettel